Tuesday, May 29, 2012
Welcome back, fans of the flickers,
A much lighter load this time around, comparatively speaking, but admirable Scares were Shared in spite of limited opportunities. (Blame it on the nice weather and the long-awaited launch of Inherit the Wind rehearsals.) Even so, we managed to persuade a few fellow fiends to squander an hour or two before the mystical magic flat-screen window, not least of which in celebration of our last remaining old-school horror icon’s 90t birthday. Considering the breadth of work that Sir Christopher Lee has left in his wake, picking a double feature to honor him was no easy task, but I think we did all right. (For a full tilt-boogie retrospective of the man’s genre labors by yours truly, seek out the March/April 2012 issue of HorrorHound, #34)
As always, feel free to leave your two cents worth – we’ll make sure you get some change back.
Dead Weight (2012) (5th viewing) d. Pata, John/Bartlett, Adam
What can I say? People just keep wanting to watch this crazy flick (recently selected as a finalist in the Fright Fest Film Festival in Louisville, KY June 29 – July 1) with us. Read a couple of these reviews and you might feel the same…
Rabies (2010) (2nd viewing) d. Keshales, Aharon/Papushado, Navot
The title is a bit of a distraction, but I certainly went mad for this flick, billed as Israel’s first horror effort. (If this is any indication of the blood-blasting instincts of the Promised Land’s population, I say hand over the checkbook and let these kids rock the house.) In serving a superbly twisted screenplay in all senses of the word, a wealth of memorable stock characters are tossed together and, through an Altman-like series of close encounters, proceed to slice, dice, hack, shoot and smash each other to bits. Sure there are more than a few scenarios that we’ve seen before in Western horror efforts, but to my mind, half the fun is watching Keshales and Papushado put their own particular stamp on the clichés. Highly recommended.
Office Killer (1997) (1st viewing) d. Sherman, Cindy
After having been memorably terrorized two decades prior in the superb 1979 babysitter freakout When a Stranger Calls, Carol Kane gets her chance to play the other side of the knife in this deliciously dark comedy. As a mousy cubicle jockey who slowly becomes unhinged during a wave of corporate downsizing, Kane is a joy to behold, her artfully misapplied eyebrow pencil and tremulous giggle accenting an ever-growing dark side. For a woman whose job is her life, dispatching one’s rivals seems the logical recourse, and director Sherman (who also conceived the screen story) has a ball in the creative offings department, with a surprisingly name-brand cast serving as cannon fodder: Jeanne Tripplehorne, Molly Ringwald, Michael Imperioli, David Thornton and Fassbinder protégé Barbara Sukowa. Not a game-changer, but a more-than-serviceable time-waster.
HAPPY 90TH BIRTHDAY, CHRISTOPHER LEE
Wicker Man, The (1973) (5th viewing) d. Hardy, Robin
In this classic cult chiller, Christopher Lee turns in one of his finest performances (his personal favorite – good thing, since he reportedly did the role for free). Edward Woodward stars as a hard-as-nails Christian cop searching for a missing child on the remote island community of Summerisle, though his investigations turn up something far more sinister. Director Hardy skillfully crafts an atmosphere-drenched mystery, with Paul Giovanni’s songs and music adding an unexpected high-spirited frolic to the dread proceedings. Extraordinary support provided by lovelies Britt Ekland, Ingrid Pitt and Diane Cilento. Loosely adapted by Anthony Shaffer from David Pinner's 1967 novel Ritual (who oddly enough receives no onscreen credit), this is must-see material for any horror fan.
Horror Hotel (aka The City of the Dead) (1960) (2nd viewing) d. Moxey, John Llewellyn
Three months after Psycho hit cinemas, this effective, fog-drenched Satanist feature pulled a similar magic trick, doing away with one of its main characters halfway through the film. When young co-ed Venetia Stevenson proposes a paper on New England witchcraft, professor Christopher Lee directs her to the small village of Whitewood…where she quickly finds herself a target of the resident coven. Lee is reassuring and menacing in equal measure, but Patricia Jessel deserves equal attention for her riveting dual role as elder witch and reincarnated modern counterpart. American producers Milton Subotsky (who wrote the screen story with George Baxt scripting) and Max Rosenberg’s first horror effort; its success would lead directly to the creation of Amicus Pictures, the challenger to Hammer’s UK horror crown.
Red (2010) (1st viewing) d. Schwentke, Robert
After dabbling in thriller fantasies (Flightplan) and romantic drama fantasies (The Time Traveler’s Wife), German-born director Schwentke sets his sight on the “action fantasy” playing field, with Bruce Willis starring as a former black-ops agent who reassembles his old team (consisting of the inimitable talents of Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, John Malkovich and Brian Cox) in order to learn why the CIA now wants him permanently retired. Plenty of saucy set-pieces, but the real fun is watching the veteran thespians ricocheting ham-fisted zingers and meaningful glances off one another. Mary Louise Parker and Karl Urban head up the younger set, matching their elders at every wink-n-nod turn. Next up for Schwentke: the undead fantasy, R.I.P.D., which sounds like a hoot on paper.
2012 Totals to date: 230 films, 195 1st time views, 126 horror, 67 cinema
Thursday, May 24, 2012
Well, surprisingly enough, I’ve managed to stay just ahead of the game in terms of finishing up the previous week’s Views for the past month or so – posting a nanosecond or two prior to the current week’s closing bell. I know, it shouldn’t seem like such a monumental accomplishment, but for longtime Fool followers, you know that it is not out of the ordinary to see a month go by with nary a peep from the Doc. So, I’m going to give myself a little virtual pat on the back here, in the hopes that positive affirmation leads to more of this pleasing punctual behavior. With, of course, the threat of whips and chains lurking just around the bend should productivity fall off.
Glancing back, it looks like we’re tracking slightly ahead of last year’s stats. Not terribly surprising with the BIFFF factor in place (which certainly accounts for 2012’s disproportionate cinema tally), but still pleasing to see. Have to see if we can keep up the posts along with the pace.
Anyway, it’s significant that I invoke my recent Belgian excursion as this week was a veritable travelogue (thanks in no small part to Jon Kitley of Kitley's Krypt), with pics climbing in the player from India, Russia, Italy, Spain, Korea, England, Africa, two efforts from our northerly Canadian neighbors as well as a number of home team efforts. My cinematic passport runneth over, and you, faithful readers, are the bemused benefactors of my toils. Hope you find a few underviewed gems below to add to your respective to-see lists.
As always, feel free to leave your two cents worth – we’ll make sure you get some change back.
Blood Rites (2011) (1st viewing) d. Booraem, Dorothy
Nebraska-based microbudget filmmaker Booraem has concocted a crime drama dipped in a black magic candy coating, the results being satisfyingly twisty and twisted. When a drug deal goes south (hey, even cornhuskers need a buzz now and again), the remaining members of the team hightail it back to an abandoned warehouse to regroup with a trio of Bible-thumping hostages in tow. Whilst licking and/or tending to their wounds, tensions rise, tempers flare, mysterious dark forces arise and exits literally disappear, leaving the small band at odds as options slowly, messily run out. Booraem and co-writer/co-producer/cinematographer Chad Haufschild make the most of their limited resources without overextending, and while their serpentine script may have a few red herrings too many, there’s no denying their creative impulses both in concept and execution. From the welcome early dose of down-home nudity to the histrionic bloodbath conclusion, adventurous horror fans should demand their Rites post haste.
Mother's Day (2010) (1st viewing) d. Bousman, Darren Lynn
In this day and age of title reappropriation, it consistently confounds me as to why someone would go through the trouble of acquiring the rights to “remake” a lesser-known film when the final product bears only the slightest resemblance to its source material. Such is the case with Saw II, III, IV and Repo! The Genetic Opera director Bousman’s latest, a gleefully nasty home invasion movie that resides miles away from Charles Kaufman’s early Troma black comic rape/revenge flick. Rebecca de Mornay earns her matriarchal top billing status, lording over a brood of amoral offspring who wage an assault on the new owners (Jaime King, Frank Grillo) of their recently repossessed domicile. As one might expect from Bousman’s pedigree, there is no shortage of squishy, squirmy gore moments, though they are handled in an intriguingly offhand way, at times relegated to the background or edge of frame. The impressive body-count-to-be performances are all capable enough, though character motivations are sketchy as they attempt to serve screenwriter Scott Milam’s dicey high wire between gritty realistic set-pieces and outlandish thriller scenarios. The end result is a relatively entertaining but decidedly mixed breed.
Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (2010) (2nd viewing) d. Craig, Eli An joyously funny and inspired riff on the “hillbilly” survival subgenre, pitting two unwitting backwoods good ol’ boys (Tyler Labine and Alan Tudyk) against a fun-loving bunch of co-eds who mistakenly interpret circumstances and appearances, leading to a number of incredibly splattery and hysterical vignettes. There’s not much not to love about this feature debut by sometime actor Eli Craig – it’s got smarts, blood, heart and laughs. Highly recommended.
KRYPTIC ARMY ASSIGNMENT: REMEMBER THE FALLEN SOLDIERS (MILITARY HORROR):
Guardpost, The (aka GP 506) (2008) (1st viewing) d. Kong, Su-chang
When the titular South Korean Army bunker falls incommunicado, an investigative military team is sent in to assess the situation, only to discover a pile of hacked, dismembered corpses and a single deranged survivor. With only a single rainy night to get to the bottom of things and the clock ticking, team leader Cheon Ho-jin (with gravitas to burn) digs through tattered records and gore-streaked remains for answers; rest assured when they ultimately reveal themselves, it ain’t pretty. Kong, who impressively served up 2004’s military-minded R-Point, works overtime with his flashback-laden narrative, dropping viewers into past/present scenes with little or no warning. Unfortunately, this disorienting effect only manages to confuse more often than not, as the underdeveloped, similarly clad characters seem interchangeable, especially when factoring in the hallucinatory supernatural forces at play. Despite oodles of claustrophobic atmosphere, and an energetic ensemble whose enthusiastic shouts and screams fill the soundtrack as bunker walls run red, the amount of head-scratching elicited during the excessive two-hour run time ultimately proves a little painful.
Threads (1984) (1st viewing) d. Jackson, Mick
For American viewers growing up in the 80s, the 1983 TV-movie The Day After was the ultimate in nuke scare flicks. Little did I know that the Brits had returned fire with an even more impressive response over their own airwaves the year following, as if to say, “No, this is how you do grim, bleak, apocalyptic terror and desperation.” With a superb cast of relative unknowns and a documentary style approach, director Jackson and writer Barry Hines unflinchingly portray the days leading up to a nuclear holocaust and its effect on the working class city of Sheffield, England. But it’s after the electrifying and devastating blast sequence that the real horror begins, as beloved characters disappear unexpectedly or suffer agonizingly slow deaths from radiation, starvation or exposure to the nuclear winter that befalls civilization. The long term effects extend 15 years into the onscreen future, with mankind reduced to a mumbling, fumbling, hobbled species; the children of the bomb inheriting a barren and fruitless landscape. One can only suspect that world leaders moved their hands a little further away from the red button upon seeing this. An undeniably impressive effort, available in its entirety on YouTube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_MCbTvoNrAg
Uncle Sam (1996) (1st viewing) d. Lustig, William
After his body is returned home, KIA Desert Storm vet Sam Harper (David Shark Fralick) rises from his coffin confines on July 4th to wage war against the citizens of his American-as-apple-pie hometown, to the disbelief of his idolizing nephew Christopher Ogden. Turns out “Uncle Sam” wasn’t such a good guy in life, and in his inexplicably resurrected form, he’s twice as nasty, bumping off former friends and neighbors right and left wearing a – you guessed it – red, white and blue top-hat-and-white-goateed costume. Working from a script by noted rabble-rouser Larry Cohen, Lustig paints a cartoonish and violent paean to the supernatural slasher subgenre, with all the nutritional value and culinary daring of a cinematic cheese dog on a stick. Wants to be good, dumb fun, but mostly just ends up being dumb and dull, despite the game efforts of Isaac Hayes, Timothy Bottoms, Bo Hopkins, and Robert Forster.
RELIGIOUS ’70S HORROR FROM AROUND THE GLOBE
Candle for the Devil, A (aka It Happened at Nightmare Inn) (1973) (1st viewing) d. Martin, Eugenio
Two spinster sisters (Aurora Bautista, Esperanza Roy) attempt to keep a tight moral rein on themselves and their inn’s residents, but – in a reflection of the repressed morality during Franco’s rule in Spain – lust and murder roils just below the surface. When British tourist Judy Geeson’s trampy sister gets “accidentally” bumped off in the opening sequence, it sets in motion a series of events that have Bautista and Roy hacking up bodies late into the night. Exquisite camerawork and mood by Martin, whose wildly entertaining Horror Express was released just the year prior.
Devil's Wedding Night, The (1973) (1st viewing) d. Batzella, Luigi (as Paolo Solvay)
Mark Damon pulls double duty as a pair of twins (one intellectual, one a hedonistic bounder) who venture to Transylvania’s Castle Dracula in search of a mysterious bejeweled ring, encountering instead the jewel that is Rosalba Neri (aka Sara Bay) hanging out with her sexy lesbian zombie servant Esmeralda Barros. Moody castle interiors, flashing fangs and a bevy of comely female flesh make this by-the-numbers vamp tale a satisfying enough Italian dish. Notorious sex-n-horror maestro Joe D’Amato reputedly spent some uncredited time behind the camera as well.
Night God Screamed, The (1971) (1st viewing) d. Madden, Lee
Any film would have a hard time living up to such an mind-blowing exploitation title, but despite its amazing-on-paper plot description, this 1971 home invasion flick doesn’t even come close. A harried wife (’40s star Jeanne Crain, in her penultimate feature role) witnesses her minister husband’s brutal crucifixion at the hands of a Manson-like cult – complete with Manson-like flower power leader. After her testimony sends several members to death row, she finds herself a target for the remaining killer hippies, and, during the titular night in question, they proceed to terrorize her and the group of twentysomething-looking “kids” she happens to be babysitting. Madden’s inability to generate any kind of palpable tension or suspense sinks the ship almost as soon as it launches, but the economy-grade emoting ensemble doesn’t do anyone any favors either.
Vengeance is Mine (aka Sunday in the Country) (1974) (1st viewing) d. Trent, John
Canadian oddity pits Ernest Borgnine’s god-fearing farmer against three ruthless bank robbers on the run (the slimiest of which played by a very hairy and scary Michael J. Pollard). I say “oddity” because Borgnine seems to have the upper hand at all times in dealing with the gang, and it is his questionable enthusiasm for doling out down-home justice that lends a certain chewiness to time-honored home-invasion tropes. Hollis McLaren co-stars as Borgnine’s conflicted free spirit granddaughter, growing ever more concerned with her elder’s dark tactics. An enjoyably complex, morally ambiguous yarn that only chickens out in the final reel by pandering to the lowest common denominator – had the story ended five minutes sooner, it might have been something truly special instead of the forgotten relic is has become.
Ghajini (2008) (1st viewing) d. Murugadoss, A.R.
Anyone who sits through the first 15 minutes of this Bollywood blockbuster (reportedly the highest grossing Hindi film of all time) would be forgiven for decrying its blatant similarities to Christopher Nolan’s Memento. After all, we’ve got a protagonist (Aamir Khan) with incurable short-term memory loss who has covered his body with “reminder” tattoos in his search for the murderer of his beloved (singing star Asin). Sound familiar? But what sets Murugadoss’ three hour epic apart – aside from the requisite musical numbers – are the extensive and charming flashback sequences where we get to see our hero encounter and fall for the fetching and impulsive girl of his dreams. It’s a rom-com, gritty action flick, musical and tearjerking drama all rolled into one supersized flatbread sandwich. Dig in.
MAN VS. NATURE VS. MAN
Naked Prey, The (1966) (1st viewing) d. Wilde, Cornel
Two features that, in spite of their surface differences, share a number of interesting similarities. While Kurosawa’s Oscar-winning entry focuses on the titular Japanese tracker befriended by a Russian survey team in the Siberian forests, producer-director-star Wilde takes to the African jungle as an ivory hunter (dubbed simply “Man”) whose expedition leader offends a local native tribe, a misstep of courtesy that results in Wilde being pursued by vengeance-seeking warriors. Both depict protagonists struggling to survive in harsh environmental landscapes, beset by homicidal humans alongside beasts of the wild. Both showcase lone but innately skilled foreigners in foreign lands, who show remarkable resourcefulness in the face of adversity. Both share a gift for showcasing Nature’s great power and savage beauty, and both were the results of frustrated (creatively and financially) auteurs who left their respective homelands to create remarkable and justifiably celebrated works of art. Both come Highly Recommended.
2012 Totals to date: 224 films, 194 1st time views, 121 horror, 67 cinema
Friday, May 18, 2012
Not much exciting in the world of Dr. AC during the week in question, as it was mostly spent memorizing lines from The Great Monkey Rumpus (aka Inherit the Wind) and enjoying some long overdue fraternizing with friends. Even so, I was able to catch up with a smattering of under-the-radar offerings, ranging from Joe Dante’s abyss to Robin Hardy’s abysmal, from Canadian rocker docs to Big Apple munching Muppets. Hopefully, there’s something here for everyone, and if not, there’s always more goodies around the corner, so stay tuned – we’ll find your flavor.
As always, feel free to leave your two cents worth – we’ll make sure you get some change back.
Hole, The (2009) (1st viewing) d. Dante, Joe
After being relocated from NYC to a sleepy suburban burg by struggling single mom Teri Polo, sullen teenager Chris Massoglia and pesky little brother Lucas Gamble chance upon a padlocked trapdoor in their new basement, under which lies a mysterious bottomless abyss. Unfortunately, their discovery serves as the uncorking of an evil genie’s bottle, with their individual greatest fears appearing in shadowy but all-too-corporeal form around them. Alongside plucky (and cute) neighbor Haley Bennett and Bruce Dern (in full-on crusty codger mode), they endeavor to vanquish the dark forces, all in superb poke-yer-eye-out/whoa-I’m-falling 3D. Vacancy screenwriter Mark L. Smith’s sharp script skillfully captures the frustrations of uprooted youth as well as the intangibilities of waking nightmares, and Dante’s splendid onscreen ensemble and f/x teams weave a terrific chill-thrilling spell. In a day and age where solid offerings for juvenile horror fans are a woefully rare commodity, it only makes the current distribution hell that has befallen Gremlins director Dante’s latest effort all the more tragic and frustrating. Seriously, Spielberg, get in there and throw your old pal a Dreamworks release bone, wouldja?
Julia's Eyes (aka Los ojos de Julia) (2010) (1st viewing) d. Morales, Guillem
An incredibly atmospheric Spanish horror flick (“presented” by Guillermo del Toro) that ultimately tacks on a few too many unnecessary red herrings and plot contrivances for its own good. Director/co-writer Morales presents a refreshingly original premise about a pair of twin sisters afflicted with a degenerative eye disease – both played by The Orphanage’s remarkable Belén Rueda – one of whom dies in a tragic suicide (or, just maybe, murder). The surviving sibling attempts to retrace her sister’s final days, only to find herself drawn into a web of secrets, lies and well, more murder. Suspenseful and well acted, it’s only in the third act where things got a little excessive for my tastes, with giallo-like camera machinations intended to obscure the killer’s identity resulting in an eventual Scooby Doo reveal that leaves the viewer asking, “What? Who? Why?” Things come a little back to center for the sentimental denouement, but only after an extended session of being off the rails. Worth seeing, but with reservations.
Wicker Tree, The (2010) (1st viewing) d. Hardy, Robin
Seriously, I don’t even know where to start in trashing of Hardy’s long-muttered-about follow-up to his occult masterpiece, The Wicker Man. Reaching unimagined levels of face-palming idiocy, it may even trump the notoriously misguided Neil Labute/Nicolas Cage remake of 2006 – one of the more laughable horror efforts in the last 10 years – in sullying its predecessor’s good name. Even for those not familiar with the 1973 Christopher Lee vehicle (who pops here up in a pointless, fruitless cameo), the presumably mysterious set-up for the sequel is so mustache-twirling obvious that we know EXACTLY what’s going to happen within the first 10 minutes. Even worse, our Texan pair of fresh-scrubbed born-again hicks (Brittania Nicol, Henry Garrett) sent to save the lost heathen souls of Scotland are so dunderheaded and two-dimensional that they generate no sympathy AT ALL. What the original’s protagonist Edward Woodward had going was in spite of his bullheaded Christianity, he was attempting to solve a heinous kidnapping case and therefore commanded viewer alliance regardless of religious persuasion – here, we can’t wait to see these ministerial morons slapped on the barbie. In addition to the head-scratching use of “crow-cam,” Hardy also attempts to replicate the use of songs interwoven within the narrative fabric; a fascinating device in the ’73 film, but here only a clumsy gambit that settles for hokey hymns and laughable music videos from Nicol’s “scandalous” Faith Hill-like country-pop past. Honeysuckle Weeks shows up in the requisite slatternly top-popping role, but even the fetching (and fetchingly named) Welsh actress’ fine flesh can’t save the day. While undeniably handsomely mounted, this remains a failure of cosmic proportions.
CIVILIAN MINI VIEWS:
Anvil: The Story of Anvil (2008) (2nd viewing) d. Gervasi, Sacha
Amazing, hilarious and moving documentary about the greatest metal band that never made it. To call it a real-life This is Spinal Tap would be fairly accurate, but it’s both funnier and more heartfelt because it’s true.
Greenberg (2010) (1st viewing) d. Baumbach, Noah
The idiosyncratic writer/director of Margot at the Wedding attempts to serve up another caustic, comedic character study, and while he hits the discomfort buttons with aplomb, no empathy is generated for Ben Stiller’s sociopathic stalled-out musician-turned-carpenter. Even though I appreciated Stiller’s effective willingness to play against type, more than anything I just kept wishing the eternally winning Greta Gerwig had found herself in a more satisfying movie.
TIME TO PLAY THE MUSIC…TIME TO LIGHT THE LIGHTS…
Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey (2011) (1st viewing) d. Marks, Constance
Muppets Take Manhattan, The (1984) (1st viewing) d. Oz, Frank
After watching Marks’ incredibly satisfying and insightful documentary on Kevin Clash, the creator and magic man behind Sesame Street’s most popular Muppet (who was also the first African-American member of Jim Henson’s illustrious band), I felt it was time to finally catch up with the long overlooked third feature film of the felt and foam federation. I’d never heard much “you gotta see this” buzz, a justified reputation since, while serviceable, it still falls far short of the charm and dazzle of either Muppet Movie or Great Muppet Caper. The celebrity cameos are infrequent and lackluster, and Juliana Donald as the most visible human character (Jenny, Kermit’s waitress pal and Miss Piggy’s imaginary rival) is simply terrible in her screen debut. Still, it’s good natured and enjoyable enough to pass the time, but I doubt I’ll be revisiting it anytime soon.
2012 Totals to date: 211 films, 182 1st time views, 111 horror, 67 cinema
Friday, May 11, 2012
Once again, I find myself completely blessed by the company I keep and their adventurous, idiosyncratic tastes in cinema. Several of the newer horror features were sneaked via peeking over Film Monthly.com regular Jason Coffman’s shoulder as he winnowed his way through a pile of screeners, while a couple more were among the score of flicks smuggled home courtesy of Belgian blood brother Gert Verbeeck. There was also a mixed bag crop multiplex harvesting contributing to the pile; not nearly as much ripe fruit this time out, but to everything there is a season, I suppose.
Also managed to polish off my HorrorHound articles and get those turned in, so that’s off the to-do plate. Next up, memorizing my lines for this summer’s production of Inherit the Wind with Festival Theatre and shooting a potentially nifty student film about the notorious “MK Ultra” experiments of the 1950s. Good times and never a dull moment. Keep you posted!
As always, feel free to leave your two cents worth – we’ll make sure you get some change back.
Absentia (2011) (1st viewing) d. Flanagan, Mike
Seven years after the disappearance of her husband, grieving widow Courtney Bell is in the process of legally finalizing his “deceased in absentia” status when he begins to appear to her in increasingly disturbing visions. At the same time, her drifter sister Katie Parker has a number of strange encounters with individuals (including genre fave Doug Jones) in and around a creepy underpass tunnel. Writer/director Flanagan conjures an intriguing horror story with some serious smarts and well-conceived characters going for it, mostly balancing out any obstacles that accompany its clearly diminutive budget.
Cat, The (aka Lao Mao) (1992) (1st viewing) d. Lam, Ngai Kai
My deepest appreciation to Gert for foisting this one on me. If you’ve ever wondered, “What would it be like if an extraterrestrial cat and his humanoid compatriots were forced to do battle against a crazy blob-like creature, and you didn’t quite know if the furry feline was on the side of nefariousness or righteousness?”, this is the off-the-charts wacko celluloid fever dream for you. To properly celebrate Lao Mao’s giddy vibe defies my feeble powers of description, but for a glimpse into Blisstown, this link to the film’s mid-act rumble between the titular meow-meow and a government-sanctioned hit-dog should serve the turn. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tc2nfqqjb5A
Dead Hooker in a Trunk (2009) (1st viewing) d. Soska, Jen / Soska, Sylvia
As one might guess from the title and lead characters dubbed “Badass,” “Geek,” “Druggie,” and “Goody Two Shoes,” subtlety is not the order of the day when approaching the Soska Sisters’ feature debut. On the one hand, there is truth in advertising, since there is in fact a deceased prostitute in a motor vehicle’s posterior storage facility, and much outlandish and surprisingly gory comedic mayhem ensues from said situation. That said, it also seems to be born out of the same tired ready-made neo-exploitation cauldron that has worn out its welcome (at least in this Fool’s eyes), and so I watched with quaint amusement as opposed to the shock and awe presumably intended. Continuity, quality sound, and production value in general are gleefully pitched to the wind, with a sense of “Hey, we’re making a low budget exploitation movie - !#$!#@ off!!!!!” and that’s all good and fine. But I’m more than a little interested in seeing what the twisted twins can come up with for their next service with a net actually in place.
Lonely Place to Die, A (2011) (1st viewing) d. Gibley, Julian
In spite of the fact that I’ve never been able to quite get over Melissa George’s too-short upper lip (seriously, this bothers no one else?), this thriller concerning a group of mountain climbing chums who stumble onto a vicious kidnapping plot turns out to be an extremely well-assembled piece of machinery with effective plot twists and surprises. John Boorman’s Deliverance meets Ron Howard’s Ransom comes close to capturing the vibe (coming from someone who is a big fan of both).
Magnetic Monster, The (1953) (1st viewing) d. Siodmak, Curt
Clever little egghead programmer about a newly invented radioactive element that plays havoc with local machinery and, to make matters worse, continually drains the energy around it in order to double in size every 12 hours. In spite of brainiac Richard Carlson’s incessant voiceover, things definitely take off in after all the exposition is out of the way and the path is clear for he and fellow lab coat King Donavan to chase the mysterious property down and find a means of arresting its growth before it (all together now) wipes out life on Earth as we know it. Strange that this nifty sci-fi curio has flown under the home video radar this long (now finally available through MGM’s Limited Edition Collection), especially considering its pedigree: Carlson (Creature from the Black Lagoon, It Came from Outer Space), Donovan (Invasion of the Body Snatchers), co-writer/director Siodmak (The Wolf Man, House of Frankenstein), producer/co-writer Ivan Tors (TV’s Sea Hunt & Flipper) and an early appearance from character actor extraordinaire, Strother Martin.
Raven, The (2012) (1st viewing) d. McTeigue, James
“John Cusack is Edgar Allan Poe” isn’t really that great of a tagline, but when you couple it with “from the director of V for Vendetta” and a reasonably thorny narrative following a serial killer who seems to be both taunting and drawing inspiration from the infamously troubled scribbler, well, things get a little more appealing. Screenwriting team Ben Livingston and Hannah Shakespeare’s fanciful and fictionalized telling of Poe’s final days does have its memorable moments of suspense and grisly payoff, particularly when focusing on the murders themselves as Cusack throws himself wholeheartedly into the role of amateur detective, especially once his lovely fiancée Alice Eve becomes a pawn in the game. Purists be damned, I thought it was all right.
Society (1989) (1st viewing) d. Yuzna, Brian
Confession time: I love “best of” lists, especially when it comes to films. Though, when Time Out London spat out their 100 Best Horror Films list (usually a fairly well-traveled road), I was genuinely surprised to see a trio of titles that I had not yet seen, including two that I had never heard of (1985’s Come and See and 1984’s Threads, though the former apparently is more war film than horror. Whatever.) Anyway, this long-winded intro serves as the explanation for how it was I finally came to sit down in front of the YouTube to viddy the oft-discussed but elusive directing debut of Re-Animator producer Yuzna. While the satirical spin of alien creatures inhabiting the rich bitches of humanity has its merits (as do the oh-so-80s fashion and dialogue), it’s Screaming Mad George’s surreal and grue-tastic final reel special effects that viewers will take away. Would it be on my personal top 100? Doubtful, but I’m glad I finally saw it anyway.
CIVILIAN MINI VIEWS:
Solid based-on-real-life dramedy with Joseph Gordon-Levitt as our likable protagonist given the diagnosis that he’s developed a malignant cancerous tumor in his spine and his chances are, well, half n’ half. Co-writer/co-producer Seth Rogen is also pretty darn funny, and the rest of the ensemble (Philip Baker Hall, Matt Frewer, Angelica Huston and even Anna Kendrick) lend solid support.
Bridesmaids (2011) (2nd viewing) d. Feig, Paul
Still damn funny. Though I will say, the shock value of Melissa McCarthy’s character certainly fades on a second go-round. Starting to doubt her Oscar nom worthiness now, although I’m also thinking that perhaps Kristin Wiig and Annie Mumolo deserved the Best Screenplay statuette instead of the Woodman. And watching the deleted scenes and the "Line-o-Rama" special feature on the DVD, you realize that the true underrated bridesmaid of the pack is the delightfully tawdry Wendi McLendon-Covey, whose best lines were left on the cutting room floor. Someone make her a star NOW please.
Conquest (1983) (1st viewing) d. Fulci, Lucio
Swords, sandals, babes, muscleheads, monsters, magic, and not a lick of sense between ‘em. I can’t believe I’m calling this a “civilian” film, but it’s not quite horror either, so… Watched this the same night as The Cat, so our batsh*t crazy barometer was already shattered – I’m thinking if we’d watched it any other time, it would have seemed much, much more bonkers. Still, good times from Fulci following his unholy early ’80s quartet of Zombie, City of the Living Dead, House by the Cemetery and The Beyond.
Corman's World (2011) (1st viewing) d. Stapleton, Alex
Stapleton amasses an endless parade of talking heads for this informative documentary on independent film mogul and recently minted Honorary Oscar recipient Roger Corman. True, for anyone who's been a genre fan for a while then a lot of will represent well-traveled ground. But just as I was when Spinetingler: The William Castle Story came out (full with just as many familiar anecdotes for any relatively well-versed cineaste), I'm glad this doc exists to inform the uninformed of Corman's legacy. Although, what the hell is Eli Roth doing in there? No, seriously. What. Is he doing. In there.
Hunger Games, The (2012) (1st viewing) d. Ross, Gary
I’ve not read the books and I had a (small) chip on my shoulder that they essentially lifted the Battle Royale plotline and somehow turned it into a blockbuster PG-13 movie. That said, taken on its own merits, the film is…not bad. Unsurprisingly, it plays like a young adult novel – which perhaps says more about what is now considered YA fare than anything else.
Little Dieter Needs to Fly (1998) (1st viewing) d. Herzog, Werner
Award-winning documentary on German ex-pat Dieter Dengler who came to the U.S. and joined the military in order to be trained as a pilot, only to downed on his first combat mission in Vietnam, where he spent the next several months being tortured in a Vietcong POW camp. On camera, Dengler is surprisingly stable and upbeat in recounting his experiences, some of which Herzog chooses to re-enact in the Vietnam jungle – that must have been a surreal experience for all involved.
Pirates! Band of Misfits, The (2012) (1st viewing) d. Lord, Peter / Newitt, Jeff
Though Nick Park is not behind the camera here, the Aardman animation genius and wit is still in full flower. Hugh Grant voices the Pirate Captain, a good natured knucklehead who wants nothing more than to win the Pirate of the Year (or is that Yaaaaar) Award, and his avuncular, salty dog crew want nothing more than to enjoy Ham Night with their skipper. Plenty of goofy set pieces and character tics to go around, and when Charles Darwin (David Tennant) and Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton) come on the scene, it’s a jolly roger good time for all.
Wrath of the Titans (2012) (1st viewing) d. Liebesman, Jonathan
A textbook example of lazy sequel making – no character advancement, by-the-numbers plot, soulless CGI action sequences, and two-dimensional heroes and villains in a perfunctory 3D world. Yawn.
2012 Totals to date: 204 films, 176 1st time views, 108 horror, 67 cinema
Friday, May 4, 2012
After the immersive 53-movies-in-12-days flickathon that was the BIFFF, anything else would understandably fall somewhat short. Even so, thanks to the resources of the Chicago Public Library, Movieside’s Sci-Fi Spectacular and a bountiful trip to the multiplex, I was genuinely surprised and gratified to rack up a 15-film/10 day tally upon my return Stateside.
I don’t have as many tales of celebrity encounters or culinary delights this time around, but I can report that April 20 brought with it the four-year mark of wedded bliss to my beloved femalien – an event beside which international travels and travails pale by comparison. How did we celebrate? By settling down on our fantastic futon, gorging ourselves on glorious, gluten-free fajitas and listening to the cast commentary on the recently released Dead Weight DVD, of course. Sometimes it’s all about the company you keep, ladies and gentleman, and my personal choice of traveling companion is beyond reproach. Thanks for saying “Yes,” sweetheart.
As always, feel free to leave your two cents worth – we’ll make sure you get some change back.
Attack the Block (2011) (2nd viewing) d. Cornish, Joe
When a group of teen East London thugs capture and kill a Gremlin-like monster, they find themselves the targets of an aggressive herd of vengeful hungry beasts. While the reductive “Shaun of the Dead meets Critters” equation is a minor disservice to the skill displayed by Cornish and crew, there’s no denying it’s an accurate description of the raw energy, vibrant screen personalities and imaginative creature design introduced in this low-flying sleeper hit from across the pond. Easily one of the best genre films of last year, and one that hopefully will find its way to home video cult status following Sony’s bungled 2011 theatrical release.
Cabin in the Woods, The (2012) (1st viewing) d. Goddard, Drew
I know, I know, every Cabin review starts off with “can’t say too much for fear of spoiling the surprises” and I will honor that agreement. What I can say is that as an entertaining deconstruction of horror films, you’d be hard pressed to find a more compelling example of “intellectual popcorn.” Director Goddard co-wrote the clever script with producer Joss Whedon as a response to the failure of American studios to yield anything but torture porn and torturous remakes (appropriating the intellectual properties of superior foreign efforts or capitalizing on name recognition from the 70s/80s genre pool) and the duo’s witty dialogue is the sharpest tool in their box. Which is not to dismiss the pic’s florid production design or its capable cast of victims and antagonists or the plentiful splatter, all of which suit the turn admirably. But I cannot deny leaving the cinema feeling slightly unfulfilled and it may just be a matter of personal taste; while I certainly enjoyed the tweaking of genre conventions, especially by those clearly in the know, at the end of the day I wished for genuine terror, horror or revulsion. Instead, Goddard and Whedon play at and around it, point up the ridiculousness of established tropes, but never deliver an game-changing twist of the knife themselves. It’s all good and fine to say there’s something wrong with the state of affairs, but this is not news to the proud and faithful genre fan. What we want is to be shown the way to something new, something better… a desire that is left unquenched. Not to say I wasn’t entertained, but like many a tasty Chinese meal, I was eyeballing the menu after the fortune cookies had come and gone, a place in my stomach still left wanting.
Dead Weight (2012) (4th viewing) d. Pata, John/Bartlett, Adam
Heh. That “Survivors” cast commentary is one of the finer examples of unfettered cross-talking and blithering blathering you’ll come across. True story.
Devil's Rock, The (2011) (1st viewing) d. Campion, Paul
On the eve of D-Day, New Zealand Army officer Craig Hall stumbles onto a bunker inside the German-occupied Channel Islands only to find a lone Nazi soldier and a female prisoner chained to the wall. But things are not, as you might guess, as they seem; dark activities are afoot and the evil that men do occasionally resides in the form of beautiful women (in this case Gina Varela). Impressive Weta Workshop makeup effects collude with fine performances, the result being an impressively minimalistic horror effort that plays out very much like a gory stage drama even if the central “mystery” is pretty easy to figure out.
(Oh, and if I were the filmmakers, I’d want to punch out whosever idea it was for the silly “chick in Nazi uniform” DVD cover art. Not only is it misleading, it’s not even good exploitation.)
Dylan Dog: Dead of Night (2011) (1st viewing) d. Munroe, Kevin
Shameless completism, thy name is AC. When I saw that this critically reviled and underperforming horror comedy had somehow appeared on the BIFFF programming lineup, I resigned myself to chasing it down once I got back to the States, knowing as I did that it was streaming on Ye Olde Netflixe. While it probably didn’t deserve its “official selection” status, it sure as heck wasn’t the shitestorm I was expecting. Brandon Routh (star of Superman Returns, even though Routh didn’t) is the New Orleans-based titular investigator of paranormal criminal action (based on Tiziano Sclavi’s comic series), and the actor does a serviceable job as the neo-noir world-weary detective, chasing down vampires, werewolves and ’roid raging rogue zombies in pursuit of Anita Briem’s monster hunting papa’s murderer. The mixture of practical effects and CGI are actually handled quite well, and while there aren’t exactly thrills a-plenty, the mystery aspects probably stack up against your standard episode of Supernatural. Where it falls down is in Thomas Dean Donnelly and Joshua Oppenheimer’s hyper-jokey script and in Sam Huntington’s Will Ferrell wannabe turn as Routh’s eager beaver partner saddled with the lion’s share of the punchline shrieking. It’s too bad Munroe didn’t stick to the understated characterizations, which play surprisingly well in the face of the mystical and fantastic goings-on.
Game of Werewolves (aka Lobos de Arga) (2011) (2nd viewing) d. Moreno, Juan Martinez
If you don’t hear more about this hilarious lycanthrope Spanish before the end of the year, it won’t be because I wasn’t trying. Writer/director Moreno’s love letter to the Universal classics, Paul Naschy and 80s practical effects is first and foremost a situational, character-based comedy – not a spoof – dealing with ordinary characters trapped in extraordinary, supernatural circumstances. In this case, writer Gorka Otxoa returns to his home village coincidentally on the 100th anniversary of the gypsy curse laid upon it. Alongside his cowardly literary agent (Secun de la Rosa) and childhood friend (The Last Circus’ Carlos Areces), Tomas attempts to ward off the flurry of fangs and fur that descend by moonlight upon his hometown, as heads roll as fast and furious as the belly laughs. Things get hairy in a hurry, with nary a CGI wolf nor cuddly Twilight boy toy in sight. Just as enjoyable a second time around (Stateside this time at the Chicago Latino Film Festival) and Moreno is one of the coolest cats around – guy deserves all the success he can stand and all the support you can give. Drop a line to your favorite DVD distributor today and give the Arga Wolves the free rein they deserve. For more info, visit http://www.rtve.es/noticias/lobos-de-arga-pelicula/
Theatre Bizarre, The (2011) (1st viewing) d. Various
After all the hype and build-up over the prospect of six promising horror directors contributing their talents to an anthology film, the result is a crashing disappointment – a collection of not-bad shorts that bear no commonality except their unified missing of presumed dramatic targets. There’s not a true stinker in the bunch (though Jeremy Kasten’s ridiculously literal, Udo Kier-featuring framing devices might just as well been left on the cutting room floor), and equally so, there is not one of the five tales that rises above its middlin’ brethren. All exhibit squandered promise, and the fault for the most part lies in the disparate scripts (written or co-written in five of the six cases by the directors) that lack a true punchy punchline among them. Richard Stanley’s “Mother of Toads” has atmosphere galore – and Catriona MacCall – but drives a frustratingly straight narrative line of a witch bewitching her victims. Buddy Giovinazzo’s “I Love You” has the opposite problem, wearing a hole in the carpet over its thin breakup story, and Douglas Buck’s polished “The Accident” lacks any real horror at all, content with depicting what happens when motorcycle meets Bambi. Tom Savini’s “Wet Dreams” (with script by John Esposito) comes closest to actually delivering goods promised, as James Gill continually experiences nightmares of gruesome emasculation; by contrast, David Gregory’s “Sweets” has little to no story at all –just a calorie-busting freak show. Karim Hussain’s “Vision Stains” possesses the most intriguing premise of the bunch – a female serial killer who steals the intraocular fluid of her victims and injects it into her own eyes, experiencing her prey’s “life flashing before their eyes” and documenting these stories – so when it sputters out with only the weakest EC-inspired comeuppance whimper, it’s doubly disheartening. Were these student films or rank novices, expectations might not have been so high, but the roster of talent on board deserves a higher level of scrutiny, and as such, disappointment reigns.
12 Monkeys (1995) (2nd viewing) d. Gilliam, Terry
Gilliam liberally lifts from Brazil’s dystopian visual palette for his reworking of the famed French short La Jetée, but I suppose it was his to steal. Not nearly as impressive on a second viewing, though Bruce Willis certainly gives it his best shot. Brad Pitt’s ridiculously artificial insane antics somehow earned an Oscar nod? Even this card-carrying Pitt fan must raise an eyebrow in dismay.
Visitor, The (2007) (1st viewing) d. McCarthy, Thomas
Richard Jenkins deservedly racked up a Best Actor nomination for his low-key inhabiting of a Connecticut college professor who finds an illegal immigrant couple living in his Manhattan apartment. Successfully avoiding sentimental clichés and artificial plotlines, McCarthy (who also scripted) guides his performers through an emotionally rewarding and affecting examination of prejudice, legality and human connection.
GIMME A “B”!
Bank Job, The (2008) (1st viewing) d. Donaldson, Roger
Fact-based thriller about a 70s crew of crooks who attempt to liberate Lloyd’s of London’s vaults of their bounty, but it’s the underlying peripheral political interests that make this more than just a standard heist film. Jason Statham and Saffron Burrows headline a terrific Brit ensemble.
Bernie (2011) (1st viewing) d. Linklater, Richard
Sporadically funny mock-u-drama about Jack Black’s eternally congenial mortician and the odd couple relationship formed with Shirley MacLaine’s aging harridan. Non professionals mingle effortlessly with Linklater’s skillfully assembled thespians, with Matthew McConaughey’s pitch perfect small town district attorney nearly stealing the show.
Bully (2011) (1st viewing) d. Hirsch, Lee
The ratings battle (PG-13 vs. R) over this documentary on public school bullying and its repercussions gave it an unexpected profile boost, and while I appreciate the fact that the film might actually generate a few conversations between children, parents, school officials, community leaders, et al., it doesn’t quite account for the fact that Hirsch himself doesn’t have much to say other than the obvious: it sucks to be bullied and wouldn’t it be great if it stopped. This is not to undermine the recent victims who felt they had no other recourse than suicide to escape their fate, but the film feels a bit like a three-act play missing its concluding chapter.
LIGHTS…CAMERA…I SAID ACTION MOTHERF*CKERS!!!!!
Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011) (2nd viewing) d. Bird, Brad
Seriously, never, ever count Tom Cruise out. In a year filled with oodles of superheroic flicks, The Incredibles director Bird delivered the most deliriously enjoyable edge-of-your-seat set-pieces of 2011, with a car park finale that should be taught as a how-to in film schools. The rare franchise that actually keeps getting better with each installment.
Raid: Redemption, The (2011) (1st viewing) d. Evans, Gareth
An elite SWAT team becomes trapped in a tenement run by a ruthless mobster and his army of killers and thugs. Welsh born writer/director Evans marshals the forces of his fearless Indonesian cast, delivering one of the most jaw-dropping action films of the last decade, full stop. In spite of some needless CGI bullet splatter, the feverish pace and eye-popping stunts are unrivaled spectacles of wonder, with martial arts sequences that have left international audiences in states of spontaneous, breathless applause. By any means necessary, see this movie now.
Salt (2010) (1st viewing) d. Noyce, Philip
Angelina Jolie is a CIA agent suspected of being a Russian mole, but that’s just an excuse to send the lithe Oscar-winner through a parade of exquisitely lensed (if logic-defying) cavalcades that would leave any mere mortal pulverized after the first five minutes. Fun if forgettable, with red herrings that shockingly turn out to be the real magilla.
2012 Totals to date: 189 films, 162 1st time views, 100 horror, 63 cinema